When you're single, you're mainly concerned with yourself. Naturally.
Your singleness may be your own choosing, of course. So the whole idea of spending more time with family may seem contrary to the life you have chosen -- even if going solo wasn't technically your Plan A. Still, as the number of singles continues to increase in this country, doing everything alone is not all it's cracked up to be.
Regardless of whether you've been single for years or are facing singledom for the first time in a while, it's easy to fall into the trap of being consumed with your own solo agenda. "Am I'm progressing enough at my job? Will those Nikes sell out before my paycheck comes in? Is it the weekend yet, so I can just binge-watch 'The Americans'?"
We are so used to having only ourselves to be concerned about. (Secretly, we tend to like it that way.)
Yet as a society that functions with a higher percentage of singles than ever, today's culture also allows more isolation than ever. This shift seems to make us all more worried and unhappy. A 2014 Social Indicators Research study found in observing Americans over the last 80 years that symptoms that correlated with anxiety and depression have significantly increased among all ages.
Compared to generations before us, many things are easier -- yet we face more disappointment, loneliness, and mental issues than ever before. Dr. Jean Twenge, a researcher and psychology professor at San Diego State University, found that "the potential trade-off for our equality and freedom is more anxiety and depression because we're more isolated," as she told New York Magazine. While singles are often looked upon by those in committed relationships as free birds enjoying the easy life, the real and common angst and frustration of loneliness is often overlooked.
Although as singles we are naturally inclined to be on our own (run errands alone, eat dinner alone, watch Netflix alone, and more), one clear antidote to this culture of anxiety is to enrich our lives with more family. Integrating more family time may be easier than you'd imagine.
Here are a few ways that work:
1.) Set up a lunch date with a family member.
When your agenda is your own, generally you like to keep it that way. But scheduling a weekly or monthly time to meet up with a brother, sister, cousin, or parent for lunch or coffee not only allows a relationship to continue outside of chaotic family Christmas dinners -- it maintains communication. It builds upon a trust, one you may find you need and enjoy more and more as the years pass.
"Seeing my brothers outside of the usual family get-togethers is very rewarding and enjoyable," said one New York woman. "We have time to talk and connect in a genuine, personal way that's not possible when there's a big crowd and so much hustle and bustle." Those connections can then be maintained by cellphone, texting, or other methods.
2.) Schedule a movie night.
Movie nights were the thing when I was growing up -- Friday movie nights. Family time doesn't always have to include talking. Just enjoying a good movie together can be cathartic.
Maybe it's the scheduled introvert in some people, but some singles often don't realize how much they need these moments until they sit, relax, and surround themselves with family. They are the times to unplug from iPhones and plug into the moment.
3.) Cling to tradition (even if it's not your style).
One of the most unfortunate things about being single is how easily we let go of things. We like life low-key -- simple. We appreciate the art of minimalism.
But family tradition doesn't have to be overly complex or grueling. The beauty of being with family means enjoying life with people from all different stages of life, with different perspectives -- often on your own terms. This may make the task of traditions seem overwhelming -- but as singles who feel we could do without the extra fuss, there are times we can benefit from hanging up our independent hats and re-engaging a bit more.
When you're growing up single, family seems to be the first thing to go. And when we're used to doing things on our own, it can seem easier to just keep it that way. Yet while much of this season of singleness is mostly ever-changing and inconsistent, family -- in all its many shapes and forms -- may be our one most solid and tangible passage to contentment and happiness. We just have to make room for it.